Are you using the walking stick/ crutch on the wrong side?

Being a physiotherapist, one always encounter a dilemma when seeing someone on the street using a walking stick or crutch on the wrong side. Deep inside, we really want to correct it. On the other hand, there is always this voice saying "No... that is such a weird thing to do!"

OK, let me just write it out to relieve some of my guilt.

A walking stick or crutch is usually used to assist walking when there is pain or injury in one of the legs. It helps to offload the problematic leg. It can be useful for a severe ankle sprain, leg surgery, or after stroke.

When injury is on the severe side, these walking aids may need to be used on both sides. When things gradually get better, one can progress to use the aid on one side only. In this situation, many people intuitively use it on the side of the injury. That is how it is shown in all the TV dramas as well! But that is NOT THE RIGHT WAY of using it!

A single crutch or walking stick should be used on the OPPOSITE SIDE of the painful/ injured leg. Not the same side, but the OPPOSITE SIDE!

It requires some physics knowledge to understand the reason behind, but let me try to explain it in a simpler way:

1. When using the a crutch or walking stick on the opposite side of injury, you are leaning away from the injured side. In comparison, if you use it on the injured side, you are actually leaning towards the injured leg, and thus putting unnecessary weight on the injured leg.

2. When using the walking aid on the opposite side, you walk with the injured leg and opposite arm going forward at the same time, which is more or less our natural walking pattern. But when using it on the injured side, the injured leg and the arm on the same side have to go forward together. That is awkward walking pattern. Even when walking with a aid, natural walking pattern is encouraged. It is easier to coordinate, safer, and require less compensation from other body parts.

Of course there are exceptions when a walking aid cannot be used on the opposite side. One example is when the opposite arm is also severely injured. Then one will have to use whatever body part that is still functioning.

I hope this piece of information finds itself to some TV drama producers, so that next time no patient will argue with the physio "But I saw in the TV dramas that people use it on the same side of the injury!"